Kennedy, inching toward retirement for a while, announces May 31 will be his last day as head of NJMEP

Longtime leader of organization leaves quite a legacy of successful efforts for sector

File Photo John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, says tariffs are wreaking havoc on companies in the manufacturing sector in New Jersey.

John Kennedy, known as much for his no-holds-barred, boisterous support for manufacturing as his role as the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, finally made it official: He will retire from his role as CEO at the end of May after 12 years of service.

Peter Connolly, the current chief operating officer at NJMEP, will succeed Kennedy.

They will be big shoes to fill.

“Ever since I stepped in as CEO, the workforce has been the No. 1 concern among manufacturers in New Jersey and throughout the nation,” Kennedy said. “The fact that, during my 12 years with NJMEP, we helped create and retain nearly 50,000 jobs in the industry is an accomplishment that will stick with me for my entire life.

“Manufacturers had a need, and we played a direct role in helping them overcome this imposing challenge.”

Under Kennedy’s leadership, NJMEP was continually lauded for its efforts — continually ranking among the very best MEPs in the nation.

A lot of that was due to Kennedy, whose influence was never greater than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he worked hard to ensure that manufacturing was considered an essential job — which it was.

The essential work designation enabled manufacturers in the state to help produce personal protective equipment — all while showing their ability to adjust on the fly, long a staple in the industry. It also proved a point that Kennedy had been making for years: Onshoring more manufacturing is not only good for the sector, but for the country.

Kennedy’s achievements are as lengthy as they are impactful.

He was instrumental in the return of the Manufacturing Caucus in the Legislature, turning Manufacturing Day into a must-attend overflowing event and ensuring that manufacturing got regular funding in the budget.

A regular on ROI Influencers list, Kennedy also was instrumental in MEP setting up a South Jersey location.

Kennedy, who previously owned and operated two manufacturing companies, said he is considering his next options — options that include taking it easy for once in his life, but more likely including consulting opportunities.

“I believe that there is a little value-add left in me,” he said, offering that supply chain and workforce development issues are among many areas in which he can lend valuable advice and assistance.

He thanked everyone in the industry and business community for their energy, which helped manufacturers get through events such as Superstorm Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, we are handling supply chain and reshoring issues that includes the offshore wind industry buildup,” he said. “None of these things could be handled by a single individual.”

That being said, so much of MEP’s success would not have been possible without Kennedy’s individual drive and determination.